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RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 56 Part II, 23 March 1998
___________________________________________________________ RFE/RL NEWSLINE Vol 2, No. 56 Part II, 23 March 1998 A daily report of developments in Eastern and Southeastern Europe, Russia, the Caucasus and Central Asia prepared by the staff of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty. This is Part II, a compilation of news concerning Central, Eastern, and Southeastern Europe. Part I covers Russia, Transcaucasia and Central Asia and is distributed simultaneously as a second document. Back issues of RFE/RL NewsLine and the OMRI Daily Digest are online at RFE/RL's Web site: http://www.rferl.org/newsline xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx RUSSIAN MEDIA EMPIRES II Businessmen, government leaders, politicians, and financial companies continue to reshape Russia's media landscape. This update of a September report identifies the players and their media holdings via charts, tables and articles. http://www.rferl.org/nca/special/rumedia2/index.html xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx Headlines, Part II * THOUSANDS MARCH AGAINST BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT * KOSOVARS BACK RUGOVA * COMMUNISTS WIN MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx EAST-CENTRAL EUROPE THOUSANDS MARCH AGAINST BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT. An estimated 10,000 people took to the streets in Minsk on 22 March to mark the 80th anniversary of an independent Belarusian state and to protest against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. The crowd began marching toward the presidential palace but was stopped by police. A few dozen protesters were detained after minor skirmishes with police but were released later. Semyon Sharetsky, former parliament speaker and leading opposition figure, said Lukashenka can remain in power only "through the strengthening of his authority and [through] a state monopoly and militarization of the economy." The demonstration was authorized. PB LUKASHENKA PUTS CENTRAL BANK UNDER STATE CONTROL... Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka announced on state television on 21 March that the Central Bank will be put under direct government control, Reuters reported. Lukashenka also named First Deputy Prime Minister Pyotr Prokopovich as bank chairman to replace Hennady Aleynikov, who the previous day had been sacked, along with most of the bank's board. Lukashenka accused his cabinet and bank officials of "muddle-headedness and unprofessionalism" in dealing with the crisis. He also said the devaluation of the Belarusian ruble was a "planned act by the West." Earlier, he had accused unnamed "speculators" and political opponents in Moscow of staging the currency's dive (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March 1998). PB ...AS BELARUSIANS RUSH TO BUY HARD CURRENCY. Long lines were reported at exchange offices in Minsk, as Belarusians sought to convert Belarusian rubles into more stable currencies, AFP reported on 21 March. The ruble has recovered somewhat from the 16 March exchange rate of nearly 60,000 to $1. Several cases of panic buying and hoarding of goods were also reported around the country, as state-imposed prices went into effect at most shops (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 1998). PB U.S. DIPLOMAT WARNS KYIV ABOUT LOSS OF AID. U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer said on 20 March that Kyiv is in danger of losing half of its annual aid from Washington, an RFE/RL correspondent in Kyiv reported. Pifer said that he does not believe U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright will be able to report progress by the Ukrainian government on resolving disputes with U.S. businesses when she makes a report to Congress on 30 April. Pifer said that if Kyiv lost half of this year's approved $225 million in aid, it would be a clear signal by the U.S. that "Ukraine is not a good place to do business." PB KUCHMA ON CAMPAIGN TRAIL. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma urged young voters to go to the polls on 29 March to counterbalance the votes of older, conservative citizens, Reuters reported on 21 March. Kuchma said in Kyiv that "our task is to ensure" that young people will vote, saying they are the greatest supporters of progressive policies. Pensioners make up nearly one-third of the Ukrainian population and are the main supporters of the Communist Party, which is leading in all opinion polls. Kuchma said that he is ready to "cooperate with any parliament" but that both sides will have to compromise. He also criticized centrist parties for not uniting to form one bloc. PB ESTONIAN PREMIER LAUNCHES TALKS TO PRESERVE STABILITY. Mart Siimann said on national television on 20 March that "power games" in the Tallinn City Council are forcing him to start talks with political parties to guarantee the country's political stability, ETA reported. "The minority government finds it harder and harder to rule one year before general elections," Siimann commented. Last week, several factions in the Tallinn City Council, including that of Siimann's Coalition Party, submitted a no-confidence vote against council head Edgar Savisaar and the city's three deputy majors, all of whom belong to the opposition Center Party. The Coalition and Center Parties have a long-standing cooperation agreement but for some time have not abided by that accord. JC OFFICIALS FOUND GUILTY IN TALSI ACCIDENT. A Latvian court has ruled that three officials from the Talsi Firefighting and Rescue Service were responsible for an accident last summer in which nine children died, BNS reported on 20 March. The officials were given prison sentences of up to three years but were immediately released under an amnesty law passed last December. In June 1997, officials at a firefighting exhibition in Talsi, western Latvia, allowed some 30 people to crowd into the hydraulic-powered basket of a fire truck. The basket, which was designed to carry only 350 kilograms, fell from a height of nearly 20 meters when its crane tipped. Eight children aged 5 to 16 were killed instantly, and one died later in the hospital. JC POLISH PRESIDENT NOT WORRIED ABOUT U.S. SENATE DELAY. Aleksander Kwasniewski on 22 March said the decision two days earlier by the U.S. Senate to delay debating NATO expansion is "not serious." Kwasniewski was speaking after an informal meeting with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana in Berlin. Solana called the U.S. decision a "procedural" affair. PB NATO SATISFIED WITH PROSPECTIVE MEMBERS. Meanwhile, NATO officials said on 20 March that they are pleased with progress to date by Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic, an RFE/RL correspondent in Brussels reported. NATO said that about 70 percent of the "force" goals have been met and that the rest could be completed by June. "Force" goals are NATO procedures setting standards for troop size, weapons availability, logistics, and communications, among others. PB CZECH SOCIAL DEMOCRATS DROP DEMAND FOR NATO REFERENDUM. The leadership of the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) on 20 March endorsed a decision by the party's parliamentary faction to stop demanding that NATO membership be put to a referendum, CTK reported. CSSD chairman Milos Zeman, who still favors such a plebiscite, did not participate in the meeting. The CSSD leadership recommended that its parliamentary representatives vote in favor of the agreement on joining NATO. CSSD Deputy Chairman Lubomir Zaoralek told journalists that the party's deputies have done "everything they could" to have the legislature approve a bill on the referendum. "Unfortunately," he said, that proposal was rejected every time. MS BONN WILL NOT OBSTRUCT CZECH, POLISH ENTRY TO EU. Hans-Friedrich von Plotz, state secretary at the German Foreign Ministry, says Bonn has no intention to link the EU entry of the Czech Republic and Poland to "bilateral questions that have roots in World War Two and the post-war period," CTK reported on 21 March . Von Plotz was responding in the Bundestag to a written question by Christian Social Union deputy Erika Steinbach. Also on 21 March, Sudeten German leader Franz Neubauer said he opposes the admittance of the Czech Republic to the EU unless Prague first "distances itself from the persecution" of the Sudeten Germans at the end of the war. Neubauer repeated the demand that Prague recognize the right of Sudeten Germans to return to their former homeland. MS SLOVAKIA TO RETURN DAM DISPUTE TO THE HAGUE. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told Hungarian ambassador to Bratislava Jeno Boros on 20 March that Slovakia will ask the International Court of Justice in The Hague to rule on Hungary's failure to abide by the court's ruling whereby the two sides must reach an agreement by 25 March, CTK and AFP reported. Earlier, Boros had handed Meciar a copy of a letter from Prime Minister Gyula Horn to the Hague court explaining why Budapest has postponed signing the agreement. Hungary wants further studies carried out to evaluate the environmental implications of building an alternative dam to Nagymaros. MS HUNGARY, ROMANIA SET UP JOINT PEACEKEEPING UNIT. Meeting in Budapest on 20 March, visiting Romanian Defense Minister Constantin Dudu Ionescu and his Hungarian counterpart, Gyorgy Keleti, signed the long-postponed agreement to set up a joint 1,000-strong military peacekeeping unit, Hungarian media reported. The Hungarian contingent is be based in Hodmezovasarhely and the Romanian one in Arad. The two sides drew lots to decide the first commander of the battalion, who will be a Romanian officer. The previous day, representatives of Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and Romania met in Vienna to discuss the setting up of a Central European Initiative for Cooperation in Peacekeeping. MSZ SOUTHEASTERN EUROPE KOSOVARS BACK RUGOVA. More than 80 percent of registered voters cast their ballots in the 22 March parliamentary and presidential elections organized by the Kosovo shadow-state government. The vote will be held at a later date in the Srbica, Klina, and Glogovac districts, which are at present under tight Serbian police control. The Serbian authorities declared the vote illegal and in some localities attempted to confiscate ballot papers and boxes, which, however, election officials succeeded in hiding before the police arrived, Albanian Television reported. Several ethnic Albanian opposition parties boycotted the vote on the grounds that elections should not be held so soon after the Serbian police crackdown in the Drenica region. Albanian Television said that the huge turnout indicates massive popular support for shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, who is running unopposed for re-election. PM U.S. CONGRESSMEN SAY MILOSEVIC IS "HIDING SOMETHING." Rugova told journalists in Pristina on 22 March that the large turnout shows the Kosovars support the cause of "independent statehood, freedom, democracy and peace." He also thanked numerous foreign election observers, primarily from the U.S. and Albania, who wanted to come to Kosovo to monitor the vote but who were denied visas by the Serbian authorities. The Yugoslav embassy in Skopje denied visas on 21 March to 14 U.S. congressmen who planned to observe the election. A spokesman for the group said the denial of the visas indicates that Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic is "hiding something" in Kosovo. The congressman added that Milosevic must understand that the international community will not allow him to repeat the "genocide and ethnic cleansing" in Kosovo that he carried out in Bosnia. PM U.S. REJECTS SERBIAN CHARGES. Serbian authorities in Kosovo on 21 March arrested six U.S. humanitarian aid workers and sentenced them to 10 days in jail on the grounds that the six did not have residency permits valid for Kosovo. The U.S. embassy in Belgrade the following day issued a statement in which it denied the Serbian charges against the aid workers, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Serbian capital. The statement added that the Serbian move violates the guidelines set down by the recent London conference of the international Contact Group to enable Belgrade to rejoin international institutions. It also said Washington will bring up the incident at the next meeting of the Contact Group, which is slated for 25 March. PM BOSNIAN SERBS BACK MILOSEVIC. Prime Minister Fatos Nano said in Tirana on 20 March that Kosovo should be given a status within the Yugoslav federation equal to that of Montenegro. The next day in Ljubljana, however, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that the idea of making Kosovo a third Yugoslav republic "will lead nowhere." In Berlin, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told a local radio station that Kosovo should receive "a special status leading toward autonomy." In Banja Luka on 22 March, the Bosnian Serb parliament approved a declaration slamming attempts to internationalize the Kosovo question. The text said that "a certain section of the international community [supports] separatism" in the province. The declaration added that the legislators support the Belgrade authorities "in their efforts to give an adequate response to all expressions of Albanian terrorism" in Kosovo, RFE/RL reported. PM GLIGOROV REJECTS KOSOVO LINK. In Ohrid on 20 March, Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov told an international conference on Balkan cooperation that Macedonia is "vitally interested" in containing and seeking a quick end to the tensions in Kosovo. He called for direct Serbian-Albanian talks aimed at finding a political solution "in an atmosphere of mutual toleration." Gligorov welcomed the concern of the international community over Kosovo and urged foreign diplomats to become even more active in Balkan affairs and better coordinate their activities with one another. He rejected what he called suggestions that the unrest in Kosovo could easily spread to the ethnic Albanian minority in Macedonia. Gligorov argued that the political status of Macedonia's Albanians is "greatly different" from that of the Kosovars. He said Macedonia is making progress in its efforts to achieve European standards on minority rights, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Ohrid. PM SACIRBEY BLASTS TUDJMAN PLAN FOR BOSNIA. Croatian President Franjo Tudjman discussed the plan he announced the previous week for the demilitarization of Bosnia with Herzegovinian Croat leaders in Zagreb on 21 March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 March 1998). Muhamed Sacirbey, who is Bosnia's ambassador to the UN, told an RFE/RL correspondent at the Ohrid conference the same day that Tudjman's proposal is aimed at leaving the Muslims defenseless. He added that Tudjman and the Herzegovinian Croats also want to dissolve the joint Croat and Muslim Bosnian federal army "because it is the only federal institution that wields real power." Sacirbey stressed that the Herzegovinians hope to dissolve the federation, re-establish their wartime Croatian Republic of Herceg-Bosna, and ultimately join Croatia. In Sarajevo, Bosnian military officials said Croatia and Yugoslavia must also be demilitarized if any demilitarization of Bosnia is to be effective. PM DJUKANOVIC CALLS NEW PARTY SERBIA'S TOOL. Supporters of Montenegro's former President Momir Bulatovic founded the Socialist People's Party of Montenegro (SNPCG) in Podgorica on 21 March. Bulatovic and his backers thereby completed their break with the governing Democratic Socialist Party (DPS), which is led by President Milo Djukanovic, who opposes Bulatovic and Milosevic. Djukanovic said on 22 March that the SNPCG represents the interests of Milosevic and of Serbia in Montenegrin politics and that the DPS, which seeks more autonomy for Montenegro, will not form a coalition with it. PM ALBANIA HEADING FOR TROUBLE WITH STRASBOURG? The High Council of Justice fired Tirana City Court Chief Justice Qazim Gjonaj on 21 March on the grounds that he distributed arms to civilians during the March 1997 unrest. Gjonaj has admitted giving out the weapons, which he received from the secret service, "Koha Jone" reported. Gjonaj told the daily, however, that he returned all the arms after the anarchy ended. He added that the arms allegation was simply an excuse for his sacking, which he described as "political" following his recent criticism of the Socialist-led government. A high-ranking Council of Europe official told an RFE/RL correspondent at the Ohrid conference on 21 March that the council is concerned about the independence of the Albanian judiciary and will consider suspending Albania's membership if such sackings continue. FS ROMANIAN CABINET MINISTERS CHALLENGE PREMIER. Privatization Minister Valentin Ionescu and Finance Minister Daniel Daianu are opposed to a preliminary agreement that Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea reached with the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 20 March. Ciorbea accepted a PDSR suggestion in order to secure the party's support for the draft budget shortly to be submitted to the parliament. The agreement stipulates that the privatization law will be amended to allocate most privatization revenues to the restructuring and modernization of loss-making state enterprises. Ionescu said the PDSR proposal was a "trap" that would result in a situation similar to that created when the PDSR was in power. Daianu said he "refuses" to make any amendment to the draft budget, which says that 80 percent of privatization revenues will go to the state budget, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. MS MORE MERGERS, SPLITS AMONG ROMANIA'S LIBERALS. The Executive Committee of the Liberal Party on 21 March announced its decision to merge the recently formed Liberal Federation and the National Liberal Party (PNL). It also declared "null and void" a decision taken two days earlier by federation chairman Nicolae Cerveni to suspend Dinu Patriciu's as executive chairman of the federation. Cerveni had suspended Patriciu because of the latter's attempts to merge the federation with the PNL. On 22 March, Cerveni responded by expelling from the Liberal Party eight members of the Patriciu group, including the entire leadership of the former Liberal Party '93, which had merged with Cerveni's National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention to form the Liberal Party in 1997. The Liberal Federation now consists of only the tiny Cerveni wing and national Liberal Party-Campeanu wing. MS HUNGARIAN ETHNICS TO CONTINUE GOVERNMENT PARTNERSHIP. The Council of Representatives of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), meeting in Miercurea-Ciuc on 21 March, decided to continue its participation in the governing coalition. UDMR chairman Bela Marko said all members of the ruling coalition must "assume responsibility" for the mistakes made in the past and must correct them. The council rejected by an overwhelming majority a proposal by members of one of UDMR's radical wings that the federation leave the coalition, which has not accepted the UDMR's demands for autonomy. MS COMMUNISTS WIN MOLDOVAN ELECTIONS. With 83 percent of the votes counted, the Party of Moldovan Communists is leading the field in the 22 March parliamentary elections, having won some 30 percent support, BASA-press reported on 23 March. The pro-reform Democratic Convention of Moldova is second, with some 20 percent, closely followed by the pro-presidential For a Prosperous and Democratic Moldova Bloc (18 percent). The conservative pro-Romanian Party of Democratic Forces won some 9 percent of the vote. No other party seems to have passed the 4 percent electoral threshold. Turnout is estimated at about 67 percent. Final results are due by 24 March. MS ODESSA MEETING FAILS TO RESOLVE MAIN TRANSDNIESTRIAN ISSUES. Talks in Odessa on the status of the separatist Transdniestrian region failed to resolve the main outstanding issues, RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported on 20 March. Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi, separatist leader Igor Smirnov, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin attended the talks. Chisinau and Tiraspol agreed, however, that, as a confidence-building measure, each would reduce the number of its troops deployed in the security zone from 2,000 to 1,500 troops. It was also agreed that Ukraine would send peace-keeping observers to the security zone. Russian Defense Minister Igor Sergeev, who attended the meeting, ruled out any withdrawal of the Russian contingent from the Transdniester until a final settlement of the conflict has been reached. MS BULGARIAN-RUSSIAN PRELIMINARY AGREEMENT ON GAS SUPPLIES. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister Evgeni Bakardzhiev and Gazprom chief Rem Vyakhirev reached a preliminary agreement in Moscow on 20 March aimed at resolving the long-standing dispute between the two sides over gas supplies to Bulgaria, ITAR-TASS reported. Under that agreement, annual deliveries of gas to Bulgaria will be increased from 6,000 to 8,000 million cubic meters a year, while transit rights for Russian gas deliveries through pipelines on Bulgarian territory will be incrementally increased from 6 million cubic meters to 19 million cubic meters by the year 2010. Vyakhirev said a final agreement is to be signed "within weeks." 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